The Seaman's Tale

Steven Bergom

Noel Pendergast sat at a table in the smoky bar, jotting notes in an old notebook and glancing at his watch from time to time. He needn't have worried, though, because just as the barman said, a grizzled old seaman walked in at precisely five o'clock and ordered a mug of ale. Quickly Noel gathered his notes and approached the old man.

"Excuse me, sir," he interrupted, "but my name is Noel Pendergast, and I am doing research into legends of the sea. For a paper I'm writing. At the university."

The old man eyed him suspiciously. "And what do you want of me?"

"Well, I've been interviewing people along the dock, and they all agree that you are an expert on the tales of the sea. I was wondering if I may have some of your time for you to tell me some of those stories."

"What do I get out of it?" the seaman asked after staring at Noel for a long time.

Noel thought for a minute. The man was old — very old — and fame probably was not high on his list of priorities. He might need money, but Noel had a feeling that the old man would not accept currency of any kind unless it was in trade for labor spent on a ship. Instead Noel signaled the barkeep who returned with two mugs of the bitter ale that the old man seemed fond of. The old man picked up a mug, nodded and led him off to a table.

"There was a ship on the ocean, once," the old seaman began when they were settled. "Going to Europe. A storm came up and sank the ship. Everyone was lost except for three people: the captain of the vessel, a young boy and a priest.

"They sat in a life boat for days. They had no food and no water, just the sun constantly beating down on them, day in and day out. The boy cried for his family, the captain pined for his lost ship and the priest prayed for them even when his parched throat gave out.

"Before they were to die an Angel of the Lord appeared before the trio, walking on the water, I guess. Anyways, the angel got their attention and spoke to them. 'The Lord has heard your prayers and has sent me to you,' the angel said. 'I may not save your lives as they currently are, but I can change you so that you can at least have a full life.'

"{'}What do you mean by that?' the captain managed to croak out. 'What do you get in return?'

"The priest rebuked the captain. 'You should accept the Lord's gifts without question,' he said. 'He has given us life, and any more gift He gives should be cherished, not questioned.'

"The angel held up his hand. 'You are both in your rights,' he said. 'The Lord does not want anything in return, but if you accept this gift, then you may never return to land.'

"The three thought about this. Any type of life would be better than the death they faced. So they agreed.

"{'}Good. I want you to think of the sea and all the things you find wondrous about it. Do that now.'

"And the three closed their eyes and thought really hard. The little boy had heard tales of sea people all his life from his father and grandfather, and he thought of those men, able to swim through the sea, hunting in the depths and living in the fabled city of Atlantis. The captain thought about all of his years sailing, and especially the dolphins who would guide ships through rocky waters and save drowning seamen. The old priest remembered his youth spent on his uncle's ship in the mid-Atlantic, catching vast quantities of bonito, tuna and albacore.

"After a time the angel nodded and said, 'The Lord has seen fit to grant you your desires.'

"He made the little boy one-quarter fish, giving him gills and webbed hands so that he could swim through the sea, just like the people of Atlantis.

"The angel made the captain half dolphin. He had a sleek tail and lungs that let him dive deep into the ocean and save drowning mariners."

The seaman trailed off then, contemplating his ale. Noel caught up his notes and waited patiently for the old man to continue his tale. After a few minutes of silence, Noel prodded him. "What about the priest?"

"The priest? Oh, yes. The priest! The priest," the seaman said, pausing to down the last of his drink, "became wholly mackerel."